2020 marks the 20th anniversary of Slone Partners, which is now recognized as a national leader in life sciences, biotech, diagnostics, and healthcare executive recruiting. Company founder Adam Slone recently spoke about his experience starting the company, developing a unique corporate culture, hiring a top-notch leadership team, and his philanthropic efforts devoted to helping young people from underserved communities.
Slone Partners: Starting a new business can be scary. What do you recall about the early days of Slone Partners?
Adam Slone: The first couple of months were exhilarating, but also a bit scary. Prior to founding Slone Partners, I served as Vice President of Molecular and Genetics Sales for American Medical Laboratories, where I gained a great deal of experience connecting people I knew with good companies. So when I first went off on my own I was bursting with confidence, but I quickly realized that there was still a lot to learn in this business! And then, less than a year after I launched the company, 9/11 happened, and the nation fell into an economic recession, so it really was a very challenging time for me and Slone Partners.
For a time, I was truly torn between continuing with my business or going back to my previous job. I had to do some deep soul-searching, but I decided to weather the storm and move forward. Those early months required intense focus and commitment, but that difficult period taught me many things, and represented a turning point for me in my professional career. And, 20 years later I am so glad I made that decision.
Slone Partners: You made an early decision to decentralize Slone Partners’ operations rather than creating a single headquarters. What drove that decision and how do you nurture the culture in a virtual company?
Adam Slone: I would love to say it was planned, but it turned out to be an outcome of circumstance. I rented office space early on, but determined fairly quickly that it was both expensive and impractical. Our clients preferred meeting in their offices, or at a coffee shop or a restaurant, so our physical office space became unnecessary. Remember that these were also tight times economically, so I was focused on maximizing service for our clients while reducing our expenses. And in becoming a remote company we increased our time in the field.
When you’re meeting clients on their ground, and meeting with candidates on neutral ground, you spend meaningful time building face-to-face relationships instead of spending energy managing an office and the associated infrastructure. Decentralizing, in that context, allowed us to focus more on the work and it also saved the team hours of commuting.
Once we realized this remote office structure worked, we decided to restate our mission and began building our own culture of caring for one another more deeply as people, while emphasizing accountability. As a consequence, this new kind of infrastructure built trust among the team and gave each member of the team the ability to deliver results from their own work spaces, maximizing efficiency and improving work/life balance. The result has been a wonderful corporate culture that has helped us achieve amazing results.
Slone Partners: Slone Partners CEO Leslie Loveless and President Tara Kochis-Stach have been at your side for a long time. Tell us about your history with them, and what drove the decision to elevate the duo to being shareholders and your top executives.
Adam Slone: Both Leslie and Tara are extraordinary people. I met Tara almost 22 years ago at American Medical Laboratories where we worked together to build an important new piece of business for the company. We worked together very well, and respected each other very much. Four years after I started Slone Partners, Tara and I had lunch in DC, and I pitched her on the idea of coming to work for us at a time when the industry was really beginning to boom. That was 16 years ago. Tara is now the company’s President and lives in San Francisco, a key life sciences market.
Leslie was a top executive candidate I had previously placed with a client several years earlier. As I was training a new recruiter, I wanted him to hear what an outstanding candidate sounded like so I called Leslie. And during that call, we could both feel Leslie’s great passion and energy. Later, when Leslie was back on the job market, I asked if she might consider joining Slone Partners. Today, she is the Chief Executive Officer of our company and doing a great job leading our team.
Both Tara and Leslie are smart, caring, passionate people of great character. They have loved and protected the company and have consistently done amazing work on behalf of our clients. In the process, I have enjoyed watching them grow as professionals, set very high standards, and exceed even their own high expectations. Working with them and the rest of our team, nationwide, is the one thing I have loved most about our business.
Slone Partners: Was there a eureka moment when you knew that specializing in life sciences would be, or was, the right decision?
Adam Slone: Within about five years after founding Slone Partners, we saw a significant shift globally towards precision medicine and individualized care. It was interesting to see the reaction from various sectors within healthcare including therapeutics, life sciences, biotech, diagnostics, and clinical services. So it wasn’t quite a eureka moment; it was more about understanding the larger puzzle consisting of distinct pieces – policies, finance, clients, and candidates.
As a search firm, it is imperative to follow investor interest in the market, and life sciences investments, particularly connected to biotech and personalized medicine, are growing stronger every day. Our client base has also grown dramatically in this space, and I credit Leslie and Tara with pushing our company forward to the point where we have become national leaders in life sciences and biotech recruiting.
Slone Partners: As a team builder yourself, is there a common thread – a certain background or trait – that flows through the people you hire for Slone Partners?
Adam Slone: Absolutely. It’s about core values as a framework. We hire smart, passionate, devoted team players with outstanding character. The onboarding process at Slone Partners is very hands on. Our senior people offer considerate and compassionate support from day one for new employees to set them up for success. This is a vitally important part of our company culture. Our senior people received that same courtesy when they were new and they pay it forward.
Cultural fit is absolutely essential on our team; people have to fit in. In the early days, we made some mistakes on cultural fit, but we learned from those mistakes. That’s why today, for our clients, cultural fit is the biggest priority we have when vetting candidates. That piece is absolutely critical for us and our client partners.
Slone Partners: Is there a particular utility for life sciences companies to engage an executive search partner?
Adam Slone: Like almost any industry, recruiting high-performing executives is challenging. The market is incredibly tight and has been that way at the highest levels of life sciences for many years, with the best talent having unprecedented mobility. Finding the right people, and keeping the right people, is critical.
On the client side, it’s smart for any company to work with a specialist in order to have access to the widest possible network of candidates, and Slone Partners is clearly a leader in this area within biotech and life sciences. For candidates, it’s about having access to the right positions with the right companies. Slone Partners makes important connections and instills trust and confidence in all parties involved.
Slone Partners: Tell us about your decision to recently co-found Wolf Hill Group, the cybersecurity executive search firm.
Adam Slone: I like building things and solving problems. Over the years, I stayed in close touch with Mike Mosunic, who was our first hire at Slone Partners years ago. Through our discussions we realized that there was no clear leader in cybersecurity executive search. This comes at a time when more and more of Slone Partners’ high-level IT searches involve finding executives with a strong security background. Life sciences companies need to protect company data, intellectual property, patient data, and much more. So, after doing some homework, we decided to enter into cybersecurity search with Mike as CEO of Wolf Hill Group.
Wolf Hill Group helps companies find cybersecurity leadership regardless of the industry they’re in. It’s definitely an adjustment to go from an established company like Slone Partners to a startup with little name recognition, but by implementing the same processes and cultural feel that we have at Slone Partners – and with Leslie and Tara offering their support – I believe strongly that Wolf Hill Group will be a tremendous success.
Slone Partners: You love tennis and were once a state tennis champion. What is it about tennis that makes it so special and why did you start Life Serve Youth Foundation?
Adam Slone: Tennis taught me almost everything I know about life. It’s in my heart. You learn that it takes practice, patience, discipline, failures, successes, strategy, and passion to achieve success. This is true in life. And it is true in our business.
I’ve been playing tennis since I was very young, and it made such a positive impact on me that I wanted to share my experience with kids who otherwise might not be able to have the same opportunities that I had. So, I founded Life Serve Youth Foundation in 2015.
Life Serve hosts a two-week sleepaway camp every summer for young people from underserved communities in Boston, New York, and in between. In addition to high level tennis training, we provide a significant leadership and mentoring component, and ultimately the kids learn that if they work passionately towards any goal, they can do or be whatever they want in this world. I am so proud of the organization, and what we have been able to accomplish.